Another Meeting About Nothing
13 years ago

Part two of “Folding Time and Space, The Entrepreneur’s Magic Wand.”

Why Did We Talk?

We are a meeting-happy culture, both in the corporate setting and in the world of the entrepreneur.  We somehow think that we can be more successful simply by spending time talking with people who have access to things we want more access to.  Not true.   Even the meetings you think are going well are likely not productive.  Most people judge how well a meeting goes by how it feels to be in the meeting.  How was the meeting, I’ll ask? “Oh, it was great.  He was really engaged and got really excited about my project.”  What is different now, because you met? “Well, he’s really excited now, so I think there’s a possibility that he might get involved in some way.”  This to me was a wasted meeting.  Even meetings that feel ‘collaborative’, or ‘productive’ may not be when you take a careful look.

I judge how well a meeting goes by what happens AFTER the meeting.  Was a different path or future created because we spent time together?  Just like with filtering your tasks, you can filter your meetings based on your thematic goal as well.  Create a specific result that will move the ball forward in a meaningful way, and then make the meeting about your attempt to accomplish that together.  Get something decided.  Make promises.  Make requests.

Information Sharing – The “Empty Calories” Of Communication

All professional communication can be categorized as follows:

– Information Sharing
– Promises
– Requests
– Decisions

Over 90% of professional communication falls into the first category. Information sharing is always the safest play in a meeting – you can sound smart, fill up some time, have slides to go over that look impressive, and avoid any really risky conversation. Only one problem: Information sharing is the only category of communication that accomplishes absolutely nothing. This is why ‘status update meetings’ always feel like a slow painful death. They usually accomplish nothing of value.  People in organizations often complain that there “isn’t enough communication” or that they “don’t know what the others are doing.”  These complaints are really the result of poor fidelity of information, not low volume.

If you strive to increase the accuracy and reduce the volume of information sharing – say by 50% – you can nearly double the productivity of most teams. If there are no promises, requests, or decisions, there is no reason to meet. Imagine if you worked to reduce information sharing down to the minimum needed to give context to the other categories of communication. Just enough info to make the decision.  Just enough info to understand the promise or request.  No more.  You’ll notice that in order to increase the accurace of information, you will have to spend more time listening, and it is often listening itself that improves the speakers sense of there being “enough communication”.

Touch It Once

In “Getting Things Done”, David Allen recommends that we only touch each document (digital or physical) once to avoid spending the same cycle looking at but not handling things we need to do over and over again. When applied to meetings, this advice is even more valuable.

Talk about topics in meetings in such a way that they will not need to be covered again. If there are options, make a decision. If there is resistance, make agreements about how to align. If there is something that can be done, do it in the meeting. I’ve been in numerous meetings where I might suggest that take a task offline (like scheduling a series of off-sites) and Jennifer will pipe up and say, “Let’s do it now.” 5 minutes later, that topic is complete, and we’ve only touched it once.  As I continue to model her behavior here more and more, my meetings have become more and more effective.

Don’t Fool Yourself Into Thinking You Are Working

Sometimes there’s an obvious outcome that you want from a meeting – like a sales meeting – and sometimes not.  When there’s no clear outcome designated for time that you are spending with other people, you must create one or cancel the meeting  When I am in a meeting and I don’t know what the outcome is supposed to be, I will immediately interrupt the meeting and clarify that.  If you want to increase your productivity, increase your impatience with purposeless conversation.  Bonding, connecting, building rapport, and getting to know each other are all wonderful activities – but by themselves they are not work.  If you are spending time doing this, you are doing it for fun in your free time, even if you think you are working.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes about meetings – this one from BIll Gates, “If the meeting can start without me, I don’t go at all.”

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